Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Narcissism and the Growth of Hate Politics. . . .

David Brooks wrote an excellent op-ed piece for the New York Times today entitled Donald Trump's Sad, Lonely Life. Brooks recounts the genuine state of mental illness and isolation in which Trump lives. Most poignantly, Brooks writes:

 "Trump continues to display the symptoms of narcissistic alexithymia, the inability to understand or describe the emotions in the self. Unable to know themselves, sufferers are unable to understand, relate or attach to others. To prove their own existence, they hunger for endless attention from outside. Lacking internal measures of their own worth, they rely on external but insecure criteria like wealth, beauty, fame and others' submission."

Admittedly, it is difficult to feel truly sorry for a guy like Trump because his mental/emotional problems make him a mean and angry person. But his problems are, I am sure, quite real and essentially rob him of the kinds of human contact and affections that most of us enjoy. I remember as kid I knew a bully who finally tried to bully the wrong new-kid in class. After getting beaten up in front of a cheering school-yard crowd the bully just sat there weeping on the grass as everyone walked away. And despite the fact that I had been one of his victims, I felt a very profound sense of pity that has never really left me. Because I saw at that moment that this boy had nothing, his only sense of self-worth was gained by dominating others and I knew at that moment, even as a nine year old, that he was never going to know the real joys of friendship and intimacy. Brooks continues:

"Bullies only experience peace when they are cruel. Their blood pressures drops the moment they beat the kid on the playground. Imagine you are Trump. You are trying to bluff your way through a debate. You're running for an office you're completely unqualified for. You are chasing some glimmer of validation that recedes further from view. Your only rest comes when you are insulting somebody, when you are threatening to throw your opponent in jail, when you are looming over her menacingly like a mafioso thug on the precipice of a hit, when you are bellowing that she as a 'tremendous hate in her heart' when it is clear to everyone you are only projecting what is in your own."

I get what Brooks is saying here. It is right on point. Of course, I don't lie awake nights worrying about what a sad, pathetic, and lonely man Trump is. His racism and misogyny might be rooting in childhood trauma, but that doesn't make them any easier to tolerate, nor does that make Trump any more likable a man.

But reading Brooks' piece got me thinking about what has happened to politics, not just in the US but in many places. The Conservative party in Canada, is no less pathetic than Trump; we have a host of Conservative leadership candidates who fall over themselves to say more despicable things about other leaders as well as the weak and vulnerable. England has a new Prime Minister who seems to pride herself on a lack of human empathy. But politicians are so often the worst kinds of people, people who are hungry for attention and power, just like Trump.

What of their followers and supporters? That is the question that keeps haunting me. It is relatively easy to see a pathetic man like Trump as not quite stable, perhaps a victim of some kind of trauma or mental illness. It wasn't even that hard, at times, to see Canadian Prime Minister Harper as a troubled narcissist who never really knew intimacy or friendship but only hungered for dominance and authority. But this new crop of "hateful" leaders are inciting a new generation of hateful followers; seemingly average people who revel in the vitriol and hate spouted by these pathetic leaders. This is, in a way, much more troubling than the leaders themselves. You only have to watch television or read internet comments to see that there are thousands, even millions of people who are getting off on this stuff, they love to see some politician legitimize their own hatred and anger.

What conclusions can we draw from this? Are we entering a new age of mass delusion, mass anger, and mass narcissism? Has it always been this way but just gets muted at some stages? Is there a prevailing sense of fear motivated by growing social insecurity and social shifts that are causing the weaker minded to lash out with anger and hate? I really don't know what's going on but it has, I am sure like many others, shaken me to the core.


Toby said...

You might be interested in Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians. He explains much of this phenomenon.

Tal Hartsfeld said...

I think it's always been this way myself.
But that it's always been "sugarcoated" for the longest time.
And with the bar for what's considered "acceptable" and "appropriate" having been set lower and lower over the years we're seeing what is, essentially, an expose of characteristics that have always been a part of "the darker side of" human nature.

The Mound of Sound said...

I think there is an enormous well of people who are fearful, frustrated and angry who are entirely susceptible to a charismatic like Trump just like every demagogue before him. The most pathetic aspect has been how they use fear mongering as a weapon, not against their rivals, but against their supporters to fuel their allegiance and obedience.

Simon said...

Hi Kirby....I attribute what is happening to three main factors. One, the effects of globalism that have stripped good working class jobs from many American communities, and has fuelled a rise in xenophobia, as people seek to find scapegoats to blame for their increasingly precarious situation. And two, our increasing reliance on technology which is also responsible for the loss of many jobs, as the owners of factories rely on robots instead of human workers. So a factory that once employed a hundred workers now needs only two to oversee machines that work 24/7 and never need a break. And three, that same technology has also given rise to social media which has created tribes that can be harnessed by demagogues like Trump with his 12 million Twitter followers, and used to create different universes in permanent war with each other. Add it all up, throw in the 24/7 news cycle, and you create a society where the Big Lie rules, and in the confusion people look for simple solutions, in an increasingly complex world, which is of course a recipe for disaster. God help us all...